So nearly a year ago, back when my second baby was only 3 months old, I took him to a mum and baby class. I had to make myself go, as we’d had a bad night, in a run of many bad nights. But, as he was only 3 months old – and my second baby – I knew that this was perfectly normal.
When I arrived, there was one mum and baby there. This mum was telling the teacher how her 3 month-old was sleeping all the way through – in 12 hour blocks, (it wasn’t really 12 hours, I think it was about 6 hours – but in my sleep deprived, emotional state it sounded like a ludicrous amount of sleep).
‘Oh, wow’ I said – trying to keep it casual when really I felt pure envy…’my son wakes up to feed every 2 hours’. The other mum barely even looked at me, she just carried on talking about how well her baby was sleeping and how all her friends’ babies were waking every two hours to feed.
’Like mine’ I chimed in, in a faint, tiny, hopeless voice that probably sounded more like a whisper… She smiled at me then, with what felt, in my emotional overtired state like a look of pure pity – but she carried on talking about how amazing all the sleep was. At that point I had to excuse myself to go to the loo, where I had a brief cry.
But I should have known better. This mum was struggling too – just with a different element of parenting. She was over-compensating, not showing off. Because, as I later found out, her baby wasn’t putting on weight, and she was worried about this.
You see we never know the full story… But we judge anyway. And it’s human nature to judge – it’s normal. But with pregnant women and mothers we don’t keep the judgements in our mind – we express them freely.
It starts in pregnancy – I see this all the time, particularly in my hypnobirthing group classes. So many of my clients have had comments like – ‘your bump is really big’, ‘are there twins in there?’ or ‘your bump is so small’ ‘Is the baby growing ok?’.
I had both sides of the scale – first time round it was all about my bump being ‘small’ and second time round I got the ‘twins’ comment, from the same person who’d said my bump had been too small the first time!
Now commenting on someone’s size is pretty rude anyway, but as someone who’s short or petite, (a much nicer word) people like to point this out all the time, incase I hadn’t noticed I guess?! So I was kinda used to that. But it’s not just about the size issue, it’s what it implies.
Many people I teach are sent for growth scans because their bump is 1cm smaller or larger than ‘average’ and (as someone who had a growth scan the first time) it can make you worry that maybe something isn’t right.
I realised this during my second pregnancy when a lovely lady said the simplest loveliest thing you can ever say to a pregnant woman (learn this phrase and shower it on any pregnant women you meet). After asking how many weeks pregnant I was she smiled and said ‘your bump is growing beautifully’. It actually made me glow.
Because when you’re pregnant you don’t really get any feedback, any praise in terms of what a fricking amazing job you are doing growing another person (24 hours a day, in your sleep and without even thinking about it, may I add).
Then you have your baby and the baby can’t talk to you, it can’t thank you or show you how well you’re doing. It communicates by crying to tell you something’s wrong. It can be a bit of a shock to go from paid -work where you have appraisals and get feedback, to unpaid work, where your client can’t give you praise, not straight away at least! And that by itself would probably be manageable if everyone else didn’t join in. Ultimately they’re trying to help but I found the first time round that some comments really bothered me.
And I’ve realised that the comments that bother you the most, are the ones you worry about too. I breastfed my daughter for 4 months, which was not as long as I’d wanted to – if I’d known then what I know now I would have got her tongue tie snipped, (as I did for my son, who I’ve recently stopped breastfeeding after a year). I could have kept feeding her, but every feed took at least and hour and it was getting to the point where it was affecting my mental health. I felt like I couldn’t leave the house and it wasn’t making me or her happy.
It was the right decision for us to stop. But I felt sad about it and guilty, and when the comments came in and sometimes kept coming about this it really got to me.
You’re not alone
I did a vlog about the subject of judgement in my closed Facebook group for all the mums I’ve taught and the comments flooded in. So many judgements get thrown around – about how soon a woman is returning to work, about how long they want to breastfeed or bottle feed for, when they’re starting weaning…you name it. And I know we can’t avoid this, so what’s important is to get to a place where you can be kind to yourself, tap into your instincts and feel confident in your decisions.
We can be so harsh to ourselves, we would never talk to a friend the way we talk to ourselves. But if you can go easy on yourself, and maybe even be nice to yourself – especially by not comparing yourself to others then it’s much easier to tap into your own instincts.
It’s not about getting to the stage where you don’t care what others think, it’s about getting to the stage where if they disagree with what you’re doing it does’t matter, because you know that what’s right for you is right.